How to face the challenge of unproductive meetings for remote teams
In several ways, the virtual landscape has made meetings easier. For example, the removal of travel time–whether from a conference room to your office space or a flight across the country–opens up availability; we technically have more time to work when we’re confined to our home offices. And with a conference video chat just a click away, we can get meeting happy. Approach with caution: more meetings is not the answer to meaningful work. In fact, unproductive meetings are one of the biggest challenges of virtual teams.
Don’t oversaturate your remote team with meetings for the sake of having them.
On the contrary, you should not have a meeting at all unless you have a clear purpose. You must first have an identified objective that you’re trying to obtain or else there is no tangible goal to work toward. The meeting by structure is therefore unproductive before it even begins. Frankly, there are far too many ineffective meetings and we’re on a mission to rid the world of them. A report by Forbes estimated companies will lose $102 billion annually to wasteful meetings in the United States alone. We can change the wasteful meeting dynamic with intentional focus and strategy. The new virtual landscape is an opportune time to adapt and adjust meeting structures to benefit virtual teams, and the same processes can be translated into in-person meetings. Let’s take a look at how we do that.
Create a Prototype
We often use the mantra “No prototype, no meeting” at Voltage Control. This means if there is not a clear and tangible “prototype” or idea to flush out and explore, then there is no reason to have a meeting in the first place.
What do we mean by prototype? Nowadays, prototypes can take various forms, and they depend on your objective. For a strategist or project manager, a “prototype” might be a storyboard, written brief, or sample pitch of the idea. A designer may make a mood board; a developer might quickly code something. Whatever prototype best fits your needs, create it, and then plan your meeting to present it and work through it with your team.
This type of structure sets your remote team up to do the work in the meeting, not after, which leads to maximum productivity and ultimately success. We’ve got things backward: we meet and then do “the work” after the meeting.
We’re so busy talking about the work we need to do when we could be rolling up our sleeves and getting to work in the session itself–enter your prototype.
A readied prototype allows your remote team to discuss it, collaborate, and collectively work on it DURING the meeting instead of saving the to-dos for when people disperse back to their own work zones. And when you do the work at the meeting, you eliminate unnecessary team meetups–saving everyone time, money, and sanity.
Tools for Virtual Prototypes
Here are three virtual tools to assist you in building, sharing, and working on prototypes with your remote team for more productive meetings.
- Mural: A virtual whiteboard tool that allows you to build and share prototypes with remote team members. It also allows you to collaborate on digital Post-it notes and templates (you can also build your own).
- Figma: Create vector design assets and remotely collaborate with team members, similar to how you collaborate on text in Google Docs.
- Loom: Share your prototype visually/in real-time. Make quick screen captures with a video inset to show your team your idea when you’re not in-person. This is an especially great tool to use for follow-up demos and instructions post-meeting as your team continues to work on the presented idea. When you would otherwise go to someone’s desk to show them how to do something, you can use a Loom video to demonstrate it.
Practices for Successful Remote Meetings
So you have your prototype. Now what? The following three practices, from our Virtual Work Guide, will help you structure and lead successful remote meetings.
1. Schedule with purpose
Have a clear purpose to meet. This should inform your prototype and vice versa. Why do you want to bring your team together? Is it worth their time?
These questions are especially important to ask and answer with remote teams because people are working from home or another location and your meeting is competing against kids, food deliveries, spouses, background noise, etc.
Pro Tip: Address matters that aren’t worth scheduling a collective discussion for via email, Slack, or a newsletter. Remember, a productive meeting is one where you do work together.
2. Create and distribute an agenda beforehand
Include only essential topics and the prototype you will share. Let people know what you have in mind so that they come prepared to participate–they may even come with ideas about the prototype. An important aspect of an agenda, especially for virtual meetings, is a realistic time table. What will be discussed, and for how long?
Be sure to leave some extra time at the beginning of the meeting to let people set up the appropriate tools they need to participate and for any “technical difficulties” that may arise. Also, allot time at the end of the meeting for people to ask questions about anything they are unsure about. This will make certain everyone leaves the meeting on the same page. Once your agenda is prepared, send it to all attendees in advance to ensure everyone is prepped and ready. This saves explaining time at the beginning of the meeting and your virtual team can dive in.
3. Break the ice
An icebreaker or energizer warm-up is a great way to get the creative juices flowing at the start of the meeting. They can increase productivity from the jump. The bite-sized activities get people moving and thinking and keeps the energy high. Because your virtual team is not in the same physical space, you are unable to feel the energy of the room.
Consider the mood you want to encourage and pick your icebreaker accordingly. It should be quick, relatively simple, and straightforward. Here are a few examples:
- Guess the Shoes/Desk–have everyone (anonymously) upload a picture of their shoes or their home desk space in a MURAL template. Take turns guessing which pair of shoes/desk belongs to who.
- Creative Color–Choose a specific color and ask all staff meeting attendees to pick an object near them of that color and show it on screen. Knight the person with the coolest object the winner. The winner then chooses the next color and you repeat the process.
- Check out: Sessionlab Energizers and Icebreaker Games & Online Energizers and our Workshop Methods & Activities for more
Be intentional when you plan your next virtual meeting. Come prepared. Have a prototype. Lead your remote team to success. Let’s change the way the world experiences meetings.
Looking for a Virtual Meeting Facilitator? We Can Help.
Voltage Control facilitates remote design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation.